#BookTour “None Without Sin (A First State Mystery)” by Michael Bradley

None Without Sin by Michael Bradley BannerJuly 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

book cover

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Synopsis:

 

Be sure your sin won’t find you out.

When a Delaware real estate mogul is murdered, newspaper journalist Brian Wilder wants the scoop on the killing, including the meaning behind the mysterious loaf of bread left with the corpse. Reverend Candice Miller, called to minister to the grieving family, quickly realizes that the killer has adopted the symbolism of sin eating, a Victorian-era religious ritual, as a calling card. Is it the work of a religious fanatic set to punish people for their missteps, or something even more sinister?

As more victims fall, Brian and Candice follow a trail of deceit and blackmail, hoping to discover the identity of the killer—and praying that their own sins won’t catch the killer’s attention.

“Loaded with twists, Bradley’s vibrant and gripping thriller will make readers eager for more.”
—August Norman, author of Sins of the Mother

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: CamCat Books

Publication Date: August 2, 2022

Number of Pages: 400

ISBN: 0744305950 (ISBN13: 9780744305951)

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | CamCat Books

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Read an excerpt:

SATURDAY

CHAPTER 1

The loaf of brown bread looked distinctly out of place resting on the dead man’s chest, leaving Candice Miller to wonder if all crime scenes contained such incongruities. She expected blood. Yellow police tape? Definitely. But baked goods? This seemed outrageous even for the most imaginative of minds. Yet, there it was, reminding her of the artisan bread she would get at the steakhouse near the mall. Never going to eat there again, she thought.

The scene was not gory, at least not to the degree she had expected. What blood there was had pooled around the man’s sternum and left a crimson stain on the front of his white Oxford shirt. The round loaf of bread was split down the middle, and the bottom of each half soaked up enough plasma to darken the crust to almost pitch-black. The corpse of Robbie Reynolds was stretched out on a black leather sofa along the far wall. His face—which was turned toward the door—was pale and lifeless. His vacant eyes stared at her from across the room. A sensation like a cold finger touched the back of her neck for one brief second.

Everything else looked normal. The pool table in the center of the room showed signs of a game in progress, with balls scattered across the green felt. A cue lay nearby on the plush beige carpet, as if it had been dropped on the floor by the dead man. Otherwise, there was no sign of violence. If not for the blood, Candice might have thought Robbie was just napping.

Chief Lyle Jenkins nudged her away from the doorway. “Down here, Reverend.” The police chief moved between her and the door—presumably to block her view—and then gestured toward an archway a few steps down the hall.

Candice took one last glance at the dead man. She should have felt a sense of revulsion or been horrified by her first murder scene. But there was only a sense of curiosity, of wonder. Who killed him? Why leave behind a loaf of bread?

She stepped from the door and moved along the hall in the direction the police chief had indicated. “Such a shame.”

“That’s life,” Lyle said, his voice deep and brusque.

Her jaw tightened with his words. His callousness angered her, but she knew Lyle Jenkins had a reputation of being an unfeeling hard-ass. She refused to be goaded by his insensitivity and tried to ignore his remark.

She passed through the archway across the hall into the sprawling living room. The early afternoon sun blazed through high windows, bathing everything in a warm light. Detective Mick Flanagan stood beside a stone fireplace opposite the archway. His ginger hair was tussled, his clothing wrinkled, as if he had dressed haphazardly before rushing to the crime scene. A silver badge dangled on a thin chain from his neck. He smiled momentarily, then his lips sank back into grave frown. He crossed the room to greet Candice.

“How is Andrea?” she asked.

“Not good.” Mick ran his hand through his hair. “Thanks for coming.”

Chief Jenkins leaned in and asked, “Did she say anything yet?” “Nothing new,” Mick said. “Just what she told you earlier.”

Candice touched Mick’s shoulder. “Let me talk to her. She needs comfort, not questions.”

The police chief grunted. “That’s all fine and dandy, but we’ve got a crime scene to process. The sooner we can get the family out of here the better.” He turned abruptly and walked from the room.

Mick rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.” Candice rolled her eyes and shook her head. “What happened?”

He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. She found the body when she came home an hour ago. That’s all she told us.”

“I can’t understand why anyone would want to kill him.” This seemed like the right thing to say about a murder victim, but Can- dice knew Robbie Reynolds well enough to know he wasn’t with- out his secrets. In a small city like Newark, rumors were always easy to find.

“He helped my wife and I buy our first home,” Mick said. “Give me a few minutes with her.”

Candice moved to the long Chesterfield sofa facing the fire- place. Its tan leather was cracked and worn. Andrea Reynolds sat with her head bowed; her shoulders quaking with each sob. Long ash brown hair fell forward and obscured her face from view.

Andrea clutched a balled-up tissue in her hand. She didn’t seem to notice Candice’s arrival.

Seated at the opposite end of the sofa was Marissa, the Reynolds’ pre-teen daughter. Her hands were folded in her lap, and her eyes held a blank stare. The girl’s blonde hair looked shorter than it had on Sunday. Must have got a haircut this week. The Reynolds family always sat in the front row during Sunday service, and it was hard to miss the beaming smile on Marissa’s face. The ten-year-old girl had pushed herself as far into the corner of the sofa as possible, as if trying to escape the horror around her. Marissa glanced up at Candice, then dropped her eyes to the floor.

Candice approached the sofa and took a seat next to Andrea. She wrapped her arm around the shoulders of the grieving woman, who glanced up to give Candice a feeble smile. Bloodshot eyes bore witness to her anguish.

“Oh, Candice.” Andrea sniffed, then wiped her nose with the tissue. “Who would do this?” Her voice was broken and soft.

Candice stared at her for a long moment, searching for the right words. Despite her time at seminary and her short experience as an Episcopalian priest, she’d always struggled with providing comfort to grieving families in the wake of a loss. Her words seemed inadequate, even trite. There was nothing she could say that wouldn’t sound like a cliché, like some canned response to grief. “Time heals all wounds.” “He’s in a better place.” “God will get you through this.” That last one, in particular, had been a source of contention for her lately.

“Andrea, I know it may not seem like it right now, but this pain will pass,” Candice said, cringing within as she spoke.

Andrea broke into an uncontrolled sob and buried her face in Candice’s shoulder. As the woman cried, Candice glanced at Mick.

He rolled his eyes and folded his arms as a faint sigh slipped from his lips. She suppressed a semi-panicked urge to giggle. Five years on the force, and he gets more like Chief Jenkins every day. Then, after a further moment’s thought, she caught the irony and chastised herself for her own callousness.

The seemingly endless stream of Andrea’s tears dampened the collar of Candice’s blouse. When she lifted her head, the woman blotted at her swollen eyes with a tissue. Her face was red and blotchy, with a network of little purple veins on her nose.

“Mick needs to ask you some questions,” Candice said. “Do you feel up to talking?”

Andrea blew her nose on the tissue. “I think so.”

Candice took hold of Andrea’s hand and squeezed it. “I’ll be right here beside you.”

Mick mouthed a silent “thank you” to Candice, and then said, “Andrea, I know this is a difficult time for you, but the sooner you can tell me what happened—”

Andrea cut him off. “We’d gone up to New York City yester- day.” She gestured to her daughter at the other end of the sofa. “A girls’ night out.”

Andrea dabbed once again at her eyes with a tissue to wipe away fresh tears. “Marissa and I took the train up to see a Broadway show. We had dinner before the show and stayed the night at a hotel on Time Square.”

“When did you return home?” Mick asked.

“About an hour ago,” Andrea replied. “We’d planned to be home earlier, but the train was running late.”

Candice toyed with a hangnail on her right ring finger.

She felt a flutter of guilt for not saying or doing more. But, how to behave at a crime scene had not been part of the curriculum at seminary. First murder scene and I didn’t even pray with the widow. Way to go.

She looked toward Marissa. The young girl—wearing pale blue jeans with sequins in the shape of a flower on the right pant leg— hadn’t moved. She looked distant and afraid. Very different from the affable, high-spirited preteen Candice was used to seeing on Sundays. It seemed as if everyone had forgotten Marissa was even in the room. This was not the type of conversation the girl should hear.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Candice said. “What about Marissa? Does she need to be here?”

At the mention of her name, Marissa looked up at them. Her eyes were wide.

“Until we’ve cleared the crime scene, you won’t be able to stay in the house,” Mick said to Andrea. “Do you have someplace the two of you can go?”

Andrea toyed with the tissue in her hand. The flimsy material was creased and shredded. “We can stay at my mother’s house.” She gestured toward Candice. “I called her right after I called you. She can take care of Marissa while I . . .” Her words drifted off.

Candice rose from the sofa. “Why don’t I take Marissa upstairs and help her get a bag packed? You can stay here. Talk to Mick. Do what you need to do.”

Andrea stared at her for a moment. Her eyes welled with tears, and she reached out her hand. “Thank you.”

Candice smiled, took the woman’s hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Will you be okay?”

“Yeah.” There was some hesitation in Andrea’s voice.

Candice walked to the other side of the sofa and knelt before the young girl. “Marissa, how about you come with me? We’ll go up to your room and pack your suitcase. You’re going to spend a few days at Grandma’s house.”

Marissa didn’t move at first.

“Sweetie, go with Pastor Miller,” Andrea said.

After a brief glance at her mother, the young girl slipped from the sofa. Candice took the girl’s hand and led her from the room. As they moved down the hall toward the stairs, Candice glanced back at the doorway of the room where Robbie Reynolds lay dead. The blood-soaked loaf of bread resurfaced in her memory. That was downright odd. Why would someone leave a loaf of bread on a dead man’s chest? Yet, the concept seemed eerily familiar some- how. A distant memory she couldn’t quite reach.

***

The girl’s bedroom looked as if every Disney princess movie had detonated within it. Movie posters from Moana, Frozen, and Tangled hung on the walls. Images from Beauty and the Beast covered the comforter on the twin bed. Small statuettes of the seven dwarfs lined the top of the nearby bookshelf. Candice hadn’t been to Disney World, but she imagined this was what almost every gift shop in the park might look like.

Marissa crossed the room and sat on the bed; her head bowed, staring at her feet. She bit her bottom lip and said nothing. Can- dice reached over and put her arm around Marissa’s shoulders.

The young girl looked up at Candice. Her blue eyes were puffy and bloodshot. “Is Daddy okay?”

The question shocked Candice and left her reeling for an answer. How could Marissa not know her father was dead? Wasn’t she in the house when Andrea discovered the body? Candice struggled to find the right words. Talking with children had never been her strength. As an only child, she had never had a younger sibling to bond with. Never learned the art of relating to adolescents. Her jaw tightened at the idea of being the harbinger of tragic news. “Let’s not worry about that. Let’s pack a few things and get you outside. Your grandma will be here soon.”

Marissa didn’t move, just turned her gaze to the floor and stared. “I saw the blood. Mommy doesn’t think I saw it, but I did.” “You saw it?” Candice bit her bottom lip. She’s going to need years of therapy.

The girl nodded. “She told me not to look, but I did.” There was a pause. “Is Daddy dead?”

Candice pulled the girl closer, giving her a comforting squeeze. Marissa stared up at her. A young life untouched by tragedy . . . until now. As much as she wanted to, Candice knew she couldn’t shirk this responsibility. “Yes. Your father’s dead.”

She waited for the girl to break down. To burst into tears. To kick and scream. To run from the room. But nothing happened. Marissa was silent. Her big eyes filled with sadness; her mouth curled down in a frown. But her grief seemed subdued, almost con- trolled, as if the girl had already come to terms with her father’s death. Candice touched the girl’s arm. “Let’s pack up a few things. Do you have a bag?”

Marissa nodded, then climbed from the bed and drew a small Cinderella suitcase from beneath it. She set it on the bed and flipped open the top.

“Pick out some clothes for an overnight stay,” Candice said. “Make that a few days’ stay.”

Marissa wandered over to the nearby dresser and pulled open the top drawer. The young girl picked through her clothes as if having trouble deciding what to take. Candice allowed her gaze to drift to the end table. A paperback rested face down next to the Little Mermaid bedside lamp. She turned it over and read the title. It was a Nancy Drew mystery. She smiled. The Mystery at Lilac Inn. I remember that one, she thought. Ghostly apparitions. A stolen inheritance. No murder. Just one in a series of stories that always come with a happy ending. No one gets hurt and the world is perfect on the last page. When she set the book back down on the bedside table, a glint from the nearby bookshelf caught her eye. She spied a small crystal statuette of an angel sitting on the second shelf. Her pulse quickened for an instant.

With the suitcase packed, Candice led the girl from the bed- room and down the stairs. A uniformed police officer waited at the bottom. Two overlapping sheets of plastic had been hung over the doorway leading into the “death” room. The sheets were attached along the edges of the doorframe with yellow tape. Blurred shapes and figures were all that could be seen through the semi-trans- parent plastic. Candice was grateful Marissa would be spared any further horror. She nodded at the officer, then led Marissa out of the house and into the afternoon sun.

CHAPTER 2

Brian Wilder downshifted and halted for the traffic light at the bottom of the off-ramp. His two-hour drive along Delaware’s beach expressway from Rehoboth Beach had been a blur. The Friday night birthday party had gone into the early hours of the morning, forcing him to crash on the couch of Chris Carson, the birthday boy himself.

Amber Fox, morning host at WREB-FM, had thrown a surprise birthday party for her co-host, Chris. Brian had the dubious responsibility of getting him to the Mexican restaurant for the par- ty. He never realized how difficult it would be to keep a surprise from a blind man. They’d only just stepped across the restaurant’s threshold when Chris leaned toward Brian to ask how many people were waiting in the back room for them. It wasn’t until later in the evening that Chris explained how he knew.

“Did someone let slip about the party?” Brian had asked.

Chris shook his head. “Not at all. It was a perfectly planned surprise party.”

“But, how—”

“How did I know?” said Chris. “Do you remember the loud music playing when we entered the restaurant?”

“Yeah, but what’s—”

“What about the soccer game on the bar TV?” “No . . .”

Chris smiled. “And the woman at the bar nagging her husband about his drinking?”

Brian shook his head. “Nope.”

“Then, you probably didn’t hear Amber in the back room trying to shush everyone when we arrived.”

“No.” Brian sighed. “Can’t say I did.”

He had known Chris Carson for years before the accident that robbed the radio DJ of his sight. Chris was just as much a smart-ass now as he had been then. Perhaps more so.

When the light changed, Brian turned left, heading toward downtown Newark. The fifty-plus-year-old car roared up the street and brought a smile to his face. The candy apple–red Mustang was one of the few luxuries he allowed himself. Brian was meticulous in his care and maintenance of the Mustang. If only he’d put that level of care into his relationship with Allison, his daughter. A sense of guilt washed over him.

He glanced at his mobile phone on the passenger seat. He toyed with the idea of calling her, but their last call had ended in a fierce argument, just like so many others. No point in upsetting her weekend, he thought.

The car raced across an overpass. Northbound traffic on the interstate below was backed up, creeping along. Early beachgoers on their way to the Jersey shore. Although the morning was windy, the weekend was shaping up to be the first nice one of the month. Rain, cold temperatures, and the occasional snow flurry had made the first two weeks of March less than pleasant. This third week— with temps in the mid-sixties—seemed to be the trigger for every- one to emerge from a self-induced winter hibernation.

As he glided past a slow-moving U-Haul, his mobile phone rang. He slipped the hands-free earpiece into his ear and pressed the button to answer.

“Yo Brian, where are you?” Jessica O’Rourke asked. The part- time newspaper photographer spoke quickly; her young throaty voice full of excitement.

“Just got off the highway,” he said. “Maybe ten minutes out.

Why?”

“The police scanner’s blowing up. Something’s rotten in New- ark. Cops and paramedics have converged on Annabelle Street. Sounds serious,” she said, her words coming out in rapid fire.

Brian narrowed his eyes. Annabelle Street was in a select neighborhood on the north side of Newark. Half-million-dollar houses. Land Rovers and Mercedes in driveways. The mayor had a house in the neighborhood. So did the dean of Northern Delaware University. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Look,” said Jessica, a hint of hesitation in her voice. “I’ve got a wedding to shoot in three hours. I can’t meet you there.”

Brian smiled. “No worries. I’ve got my camera in the trunk.” His years as a journalist had taught him to be flexible, often taking photos for his own articles. A photographer by his side was a luxury he’d learned to do without. His pictures would never be as good as Jessica’s, but they’d be just fine for the newspaper. “You can criticize my picture-taking skills later.”

“How was the party?” she asked.

Heavy traffic slowed Brian’s approach into the city of Newark. He braked as the line of cars ahead came to a crawl. “You missed a good time.” He thought again about the previous night. “Chris was disappointed you weren’t there.”

She sighed. Chris Carson’s “crush” on Jessica was public knowledge—as was her unwillingness to be tied down in any relationship. “He’ll get over it,” she said.

Brian laughed. “Go to the wedding. Enjoy yourself.”

***

Three police cars were parked in front of a house on Annabelle Street, and an ambulance was backed into the driveway. Brian parked the Mustang along the curb a few houses up the block. Be- fore climbing from the car, he reached into the glovebox and dug out a spiral notebook and a pen. From the trunk, he grabbed a black camera bag and slung it over his shoulder.

As he walked along the sidewalk, he noticed a small crowd of onlookers across the street. The house at the center of everyone’s attention was a modern take on a classic Victorian. A police officer leaned on the white railing of the wraparound porch. A two-story turret rose high above the house, black shingles covering its peak. The white siding was bright in the afternoon sun. Brian recognized the house.

It belonged to Robbie Reynolds.

He sifted through a mental dossier of the man. Robbie Reynolds. Mid-forties. Married with one child. Wife’s name is Andrea. Born and raised in Delaware. Attended and dropped out of North- ern Delaware University. Local real estate agent. No, local real estate mogul. Self-proclaimed “king of Newark real estate.”

The facts came readily to mind, as did the rumors. Egotist.

Gambler. Womanizer.

As Brian approached a nearby police car, he was surprised to find Father Andrew Blake in conversation with Sergeant Stacy Devonport. The priest’s black hair was peppered with specks of gray; a few strands above his forehead waved with the afternoon breeze. He wore his customary black tab collar shirt and slacks. A black jacket hung awkwardly from Andrew’s gaunt frame, looking like it was a size too big. The priest’s presence was puzzling. As far as Brian knew, the Reynolds family wasn’t Catholic.

Stacy shook Brian’s hand and smiled. “I bet I can guess what brings you here.”

“Same reason that brought you.” He turned to Andrew. “I’m surprised. I don’t recall ever seeing the Reynolds at St. Matthews.”

“How would you know, Brian?” Andrew folded his arms and tilted his head to the side. “You’re not exactly a regular attendee at Sunday Mass.”

Stacy laughed at the priest’s rebuke. “He’s got you there.”

Brian shrugged off their remarks. “I’ve been busy.” It was easier to lie than try to explain why he’d not been to church in a while. He gestured toward the house. “What’s going on, Stacy? Why the heavy police presence?”

“I can’t tell you much.” She rested the roll of crime scene tape on the trunk of the police car. “I’ve been relegated to crowd control. Haven’t been inside.”

Brian glanced at the crowd across the street. Ten, maybe eleven people. “Yeah. I see you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Stacy folded her arms. “Hey, if that throng gets out of hand—”

“That’s a throng?” Brian raised an eyebrow. He let the moment linger before straightening up and narrowing his eyes. “Seriously, what’s going on?”

“Suspicious death.” Stacy turned her gaze toward the house, then back at Brian. “Robbie.”

A slight heaviness pressed down on his shoulders. Brian’s dealings with the real estate agent were infrequent and always all business. Robbie ran a weekly half-page ad in the Monday edition in the newspaper, but often sent it, along with a check, in the mail. Brian’s only other dealings with the man had been when he first arrived in Newark.

Robbie was the real estate agent who helped Brian find the building that now served as the office of the Newark Observer. Since then, Brian rarely had to see the man face-to-face. But that only meant the pang of grief was momentary. A death was still a death after all. “How?”

“All I know is it’s suspicious.” She shrugged. “Nothing else.”

Brian gestured toward a black Dodge Charger parked up the street. “I see he’s here already.”

“The chief? Yeah, he’s in there now. Want me to tell him you’re here?”

Brian gave a nod, and Stacy spoke into the radio mic attached to her shoulder. He flipped open the notebook, made a couple notations, and closed it again.

“He’ll be right out,” she said. “Word of warning. He’s not in the best of moods. He’s missing his grandson’s Little League game for this.”

“Thanks for the heads-up. Where’s Flanagan? Couldn’t he handle this?”

Stacy gestured toward the house. “He’s here, too, but you know how the chief is. He’s got to stick his nose into every investigation.” She looked over at the crowd, which had now grown to twelve people. “If you’ll excuse me . . .”

As Stacy strode off, Brian turned back to Andrew. The priest stared across the lawn at the Reynolds’ family home, arms hanging limp at his sides, his eyes wet and dull.

Brian touched the priest’s shoulder. “Andrew?”

“Man’s propensity to commit violence against another never ceases to amaze me.” Andrew slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and sighed. “You’ve probably seen that more than most people. How do you get used to it?”

Brian mulled over the remark.

A twenty-two-year journalism career had certainly shown him the darkest sides of human brutality. He’d covered two wars in the Middle East. Been at ground zero on 9/11. Reported on the violence between the drug cartels in South America. Then there were more natural disasters than he could remember. All for Time, Newsweek, and a dozen other magazines and newspapers. He’d seen more death than one man probably should. “You don’t,” he finally said.

Brian watched the black van from the county medical examiner’s office drive past and pull into the driveway. “Why are you here?”

Andrew rocked on the balls of his feet. “I’m just a chauffeur. Do you know Candice Miller, pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church? No?” He paused for a second; his lips thinned to a downward arch. “Remind me to introduce you. Anyway, we were meeting at the rectory for our weekly chess game.”

Brian knew of the church on the corner of Haines Street and Delaware Avenue, but he couldn’t recall ever meeting the pastor. He made a mental note to take Andrew up on his offer of an intro- duction. “You found a sucker who doesn’t mind losing all the time?” Andrew snorted with amusement. “We’re pretty evenly matched, thank you very much. We were just settling down to play when Candice got the call about Robbie. His wife called. They go to Candice’s church. I offered to drive her.”

“So, driving Ms. Miller?”

Andrew turned to look at the house. “You could say that.”

A flurry of activity outside the house caught Brian’s eye. Police chief Lyle Jenkins stepped from the house, paused at the base of the porch steps, then moved across the lawn toward Brian and An- drew with purposeful strides. A moment later, two additional people emerged from the house. Brian recognized Marissa Reynolds, but the woman with her was a stranger. She was petite with dark hair and wore a lavender windbreaker. The woman carried a small, bright-colored suitcase. She guided Marissa to a porch swing, and they sat together.

Brian was still studying the pair when Lyle Jenkins approached. The stout police chief—dressed in faded blue jeans and a gray polo—wore his holster and gun belt low on his waist. A gold badge hung from his neck on a silver chain and bounced off his chest. The touch of gray in his black hair was highlighted by his dark complexion. “Wilder, how did I know you’d show up here?” He held out his hand.

Brian returned the hardy handshake. “You going to give me a scoop? Or do I have to wait for the press conference?”

Lyle cocked his head. “How exclusive can you really be with that rag of yours?”

Brian snorted, knowing the chief had a point. The Newark Observer was a twice-weekly newspaper. Even if he was the first to a story, the larger news outlets would have covered it ad nauseam before the next issue of the Observer hit the streets.

“I hear its murder,” Brian said.

Andrew shook his head and made a tsk-tsk sound. “I believe the words used were ‘suspicious death.’”

“That’s all you’re getting at the moment,” Lyle said. He then leaned toward Brian, conspiratorially. “Off the record, Flanagan’s got his hands full with this one.” He glanced around, then hitched his thumb into his belt. “Where’s your sidekick?”

“Shooting a wedding.” Brian tapped the camera slung over his shoulder. “I’m on my own.”

A gray Chevy Malibu slowly pulled up to the entrance of the driveway. The driver seemed confused as to where to park, first attempting to pull into the driveway behind the medical examiner’s van. Then, thinking better of it, the driver backed up and drove past the house to park along the curb. An elderly woman climbed from the car and headed for the house. She was stopped at the end of the driveway by two police officers. Their conversation started cordially enough. But when it was clear the officers weren’t going to let her pass, she became more animated. Her arms flew in wild gestures, pointing at the house. From where he stood, Brian heard the woman’s voice grow louder as she became more frustrated.

“. . . daughter needs me! Don’t you have any sympathy for what’s happened here?” The woman placed her hands on her hips, almost as if she were daring the officer to stand in her way. Obviously, she was a force to be reckoned with. Brian took pity on the officer. It was probably not going to be a battle he would win.

“Grandma!”

The cry came from the front porch. Marissa leapt from the porch swing and ran down the steps. The grandmother pushed past the police officers and met her granddaughter halfway. They embraced, and Marissa appeared to break down into tears.

Lyle let out a gruff sigh and shook his head. “I need to take care of this.”

“Chief, I’d like to check on Candice, if you don’t mind,” An- drew said.

Lyle’s eyes tightened and his lips curled down. He pointed at the house. “That is a crime scene, not a social club.”

Andrew folded his arms. “Even the comforter needs to be comforted sometimes.”

Lyle allowed a loud sigh to slip from his lips—a clear sign of reluctant capitulation. “Fine. Come with me,” Lyle finally said. “You can go as far as the porch. But, stay out of the house, understand?” The police chief turned and started toward the house, Andrew just steps behind. Brian shrugged his shoulders and took a step forward to follow.

“Not you, Wilder,” said Lyle, without looking back.

***

Excerpt from None Without Sin by Michael Bradley. Copyright 2022 by Michael Bradley. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley is an award-winning author from Delaware. He spent eight years as a radio DJ “on the air” before realizing he needed a real job and turned to IT. Never one to waste an experience, he used his familiarity with life on the radio for many of his suspense novels. His third novel, Dead Air (2020), won the Foreword INDIES Award as well as the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award.

 

Catch Up With Michael Bradley:
www.MBradleyOnline.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @mjbradley88
Instagram – @mjbradley88
Twitter – @mjbradley88
Facebook – @mjbradley88

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#BookTour “Wolf Bog (A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery, #3)” by Leslie Wheeler

Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler BannerJuly 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler

It’s August in the Berkshires, and the area is suffering from a terrible drought. As wetlands dry up, the perfectly preserved body of a local man, missing for forty years, is discovered in Wolf Bog by a group of hikers that includes Kathryn Stinson. Who was he and what was his relationship with close friend Charlotte Hinckley, also on the hike, that would make Charlotte become distraught and blame herself for his death? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to the discovery of fabulous parties held at the mansion up the hill from her rental house, where local teenagers like the deceased mingled with the offspring of the wealthy. Other questions dog the arrival of a woman claiming to be the daughter Charlotte gave up for adoption long ago. But is she really Charlotte’s daughter, and if not, what’s her game? Once again, Kathryn’s quest for the truth puts her in grave danger.

Praise for Wolf Bog:

“Wheeler’s deep sense of place—the Berkshires—illuminates a deftly woven plot and a quirky cast of characters that will keep you glued to the pages until the last stunning revelation. It’s always a pleasure to be in the hands of a pro.”

Kate Flora, Edgar and Anthony nominated author

“When a long-lost teenager turns up dead, a cold case turns into hot murder. A deliciously intriguing Berkshire mystery.”

Sarah Smith, Agatha Award-winning author
of The Vanished Child and Crimes and Survivors

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Amateur Sleuth/Suspense

Published by: Encircle Publishing

Publication Date: July 6, 2022

Number of Pages: 336

ISBN: 164599385X (ISBN-13: 978-1645993858)

Series: A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery, #3

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Read an excerpt:

Charlotte’s brow furrowed as she stared at the bog. “There’s something down there. A dead animal or…?” She raised her binoculars to get a better look.

“Where?” Wally asked. She pointed to a spot on the peat at the edge of the water. Wally had barely lifted his binoculars when Charlotte cried, “Oh, my God, it’s a body!” And took off toward it.

“No, don’t go there!” Wally grabbed at her, but she eluded him. When Charlotte was almost to the body−−if that’s what it was−−she began to sink into the bog. She waved her arms and twisted her legs, trying desperately to get out, but her struggles only made her sink deeper.

Kathryn’s heart seized. They had to rescue Charlotte, but how without getting stuck themselves? Brushing past Wally, Steve started down the slope. Wally caught him, pulled him back, and handed him over to Hal Phelps. “You stay put. Everyone else, too. I’ve had experience hiking around this bog, and I think I can get her out. Stop struggling and try to keep calm,” he called down to Charlotte. “Help is on the way.”

Wally made his way carefully to where Charlotte stood, caught in the mire. He tested each step before putting his full weight on it, backtracking when he deemed the ground too soft. When he was a few yards away, he stopped.

“This is as far as I can safely come,” he told Charlotte. He extended his hiking pole and she grabbed it. Then, on his instructions, she slowly and with great effort lifted first one leg, then the other out of the muck and onto the ground behind her. Wally guided her back to the others, following the same zigzag pattern he’d made when descending. Charlotte went with him reluctantly. She kept glancing back over her shoulder at what she’d seen at the water’s edge.

Kathryn trained her binoculars on that spot. Gradually an image came into focus. A body was embedded in the peat. The skin was a dark, reddish brown, but otherwise, it was perfectly preserved. Bile rose in her throat.

Charlotte moved close to Kathryn. “You see him, don’t you?” Her face was white, her eyes wide and staring.

“See who?” Wally demanded.

“Denny,” Charlotte said. “You must’ve seen him, too.”

“I saw something that appears to be a body, but–” Wally said.

“So there really is a dead person down there?” Betty asked.

“It looks that way,” Wally said grimly. “But let’s not panic. I’m going to try to reach Chief Lapsley, though I doubt I’ll get reception here. We’ll probably have to leave the area before I can.”

“We can’t just leave Denny here to die,” Charlotte wailed.

“Charlotte,” Wally said with a pained expression, “whoever is down there is already dead.”

She flinched, as if he’d slapped her across the face. “No! I’m telling you Denny’s alive.” She glared at him, then her defiant expression changed to one of uncertainty. “Dead or alive, I’m to blame. I’m staying here with him.”

***

Excerpt from Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler. Copyright 2022 by Leslie Wheeler. Reproduced with permission from Leslie Wheeler. All rights reserved.

~~~

Author Bio:

Leslie Wheeler

An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written two mystery series. Her Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries launched with Rattlesnake Hill and continue with Shuntoll Road and Wolf Bog. Her Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and continue with Murder at Gettysburg and Murder at Spouters Point. Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Leslie is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Committee. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond.

Catch Up With Leslie:
www.LeslieWheeler.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @lesliewheeler1
Twitter – @Leslie_Wheeler
Facebook – @LeslieWheelerAuthor

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Tour Participants:

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#BookTour “The Bones of Amoret” by Arthur Herbert

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Mystery

Date Published: February 2022

Publisher: Stitched Smile Publications

 

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 “Great action, well-told, and authentic with all the nuances and spirit of small town Texas. Don’t miss it.” -Lone Star Literary Life Reviews

In this enigmatic follow up to his critically acclaimed debut novel The Cuts that Cure, Arthur Herbert returns to the Texas-Mexico border with this chilling mystery set amidst a small town’s bloody loss of innocence.

Amoret, Texas, 1982. Life along the border is harsh, but in a world where cultures work together to carve a living from the desert landscape, Blaine Beckett lives a life of isolation. A transplanted Boston intellectual, for twenty years locals have viewed him as a snob, a misanthrope, an outsider. He seems content to stand apart until one night when he vanishes into thin air amid signs of foul play.

Noah Grady, the town doctor, is a charming and popular good ol’ boy. He’s also a keeper of secrets, both the town’s and his own. He watches from afar as the mystery of Blaine’s disappearance unravels and rumors fly. Were the incipient cartels responsible? Was it a local with a grudge? Or did Blaine himself orchestrate his own disappearance? Then the
unthinkable happens, and Noah begins to realize he’s considered a suspect.

Paced like a lit fuse and full of dizzying plot twists, The Bones of Amoret is a riveting whodunit that will keep you guessing all the way to its shocking conclusion.

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About the Author

Arthur Herbert was born and raised in small town Texas. He worked on offshore oil rigs, as a bartender, a landscaper at a trailer park, and as a
social worker before going to medical school.

For the last eighteen years, he’s worked as a trauma and burn surgeon, operating on all ages of
injured patients. He continues to run a thriving practice in New Orleans where he lives with his wife Amy and their dogs.

 

Contact Links

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @herbertwriter

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#BookTour “From Shades of Blue” by Thanvi Voruganti

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Poetry

Date Published: June 9, 2022

 

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Each and every person is a subject with a range of emotions; through experiences, people’s perception of thoughts vary. Every emotion
has a different purpose and the acknowledgment of the feeling affects the
impact on the victim. My lucid ideas about similar emotions blended with other people’s exposure serves as a fine contrast and an intriguing viewpoint. To further understand this outlook, I watch, listen, and interpret these emotions through other people’s experiences in an effort to articulate them, in hopes that I will be able to find the places where these different shades of blue originate and lie within.

~~~

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  About the Author

Thanvi Voruganti is the international best-selling author of the book, From the Inside: The Inner Soul of a Young Poet on Amazon.

She is 12 years old and lives in Chandler, Arizona
with her parents.

Often the contemplative thinker, Thanvi continues to
showcase her resume through poetry and other award-winning works.

 

Contact Links

Website

Facebook: Deepika Gangam

Instagram: gangamdeepika

Pinterest: @dgangam

LinkedIn: Deepika Gangam

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#PreOrderBookBlitz “Invitation to Hell (Goddess of Death #1)” by Amber Bunch

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Welcome to the pre-order event for Invitation to Hell, a dark romantic fantasy by Amber Bunch! Read on for details, pre-order a copy, and enter the giveaway ($25 Amazon e-gift card – open to everyone)!

When you pre-order you get a few extras when your book arrives:

2 Stickers (Including Chibi Sticker of Asmo and Kali) 

2 Bookmarks

Art Print of Asmodeus

Signed Book Plate 

Casebound Cover ITH sample

Invitation to Hell (Goddess of Death #1)

Publication Date: September 22, 2022 (First Edition)

Genre: Dark Romance/ Dark Fantasy/ Mythology

What if, all you’ve ever known was ripped away from you…

You were thrown into a world full of the same creatures that have haunted your nightmares for years. Magic, and the Gods are no longer a myth, but a part of your destiny.

Now, you’re about to lose everything and everyone you love to an evil King known as the Devourer of Souls.

Then, there’s Hades’ son…

The ruthless Prince that drives you crazy and thinks you are a waste of his time.

You can’t stand him, but he has been instructed to protect you, so now you have to deal with his arrogance on top of everything else.

The two of you must travel across the Realms to find a way to stop King Lucius before all is lost and you still don’t even know how to use your newly awakened power.

Well, this should be fun.

Pre-Order Here and at B&N!

Kindle Unlimited

About the Author

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Amber is an author of spicy romance with a twist…
She isn’t committed to any one genre. She lives in Ohio with her family and her dog. She enjoys the outdoors, reading, playing guitar, and loves to stay active. She is a mother of three and her family is her biggest support group. She has also written a children’s book series that was inspired by her children and their play adventures together.

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#CoverReveal “How to Love An Ogre (Island Girls: 3 Sisters in Mauritius #2)” by Zee Monodee

cover reveal

How to Love An Ogre (Island Girls: 3 Sisters in Mauritius #2)

by Zee Monodee

Contemporary Romance

Releasing July 29th!

BLURB:
Youngest of the Hemant sister trio, Diya Hemant, has dedicated much of her life to finding Prince Charming. Of course, a girl’s got to kiss a few frogs along the way, right? Until her path crosses that of Trent Garrison, a British widower with two young sons. Surly Trent reminds her of the worst kind of ogre, and then life throws another man her way, one who embodies Mr Right for this modern-day princess. But appearances can be deceptive. Will Diya let her pride and prejudices stand in the path of true happiness?

~~~

GIVEAWAY!

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Add the book to your Goodreads to-read list, and
Leave a comment here with your Goodreads name
A winner will be chosen next week. Entrants must be 18 years old.

#BookTour “Dead Drop” by James L’Etoile

Dead Drop by James L'Etoile BannerJune 27 – July 22, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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Synopsis:

Hundreds go missing each year making the dangerous crossing over the border. What if you were one of them?

While investigating the deaths of undocumented migrants in the Arizona desert, Detective Nathan Parker finds a connection to the unsolved murder of his partner on a human smuggling run. The new evidence lures Parker over the border in search of the truth, only to trap him in a strange and dangerous land. If he’s to survive, Parker must place his life in the hands of the very people he once pursued.

Border violence, border politics, and who is caught in between. The forces behind it might surprise you.

Praise for Dead Drop:

“James L’Etoile’s DEAD DROP hooked me from the opening sentences to the very last page. A truly twisted plot, gifted storytelling, and dead-on characterization combine to make this tense, timely, and heart-breaking thriller a truly memorable read. I loved it!”
~ Karen Dionne, author of the #1 international bestseller THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER and THE WICKED SISTER

“An incredible story that grabs you by the throat and tosses you across the room. L’Etoile is a gem.”
~ J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of HER DARK LIES

James L’Etoile is such a talented and terrific storyteller! His real-life experience in the criminal justice system gives his compelling, high-stakes thrillers an authenticity that only a savvy insider can provide. You’ll be turning the pages as fast as you can!
~ Hank Phillippi Ryan USA Today Bestselling Author of HER PERFECT LIFE

A suspenseful and utterly gripping novel that doesn’t shy away from the terror of drug cartels and border violence, James L’Etoile’s DEAD DROP is a well-researched, expertly written police procedural with twists that will leave you breathless. This one is not to be missed.
~ Jennifer Hillier, bestselling author of LITTLE SECRETS and THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK

“Borders are blurred, lines are crossed. Nathan Parker navigates an intensely personal case, uncontrolled emotions threatening his good judgement. Brilliant prose, crisp pacing, and well-developed characters make L’Etoile a must-read for every thriller enthusiast. An unforgettable story.”
~ K.J. Howe, international bestselling author of SKYJACK

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Number of Pages: 300

ISBN: 978-1-68512-114-3

Series: The Detective Nathan Parker Series, Book 1

Book Links: Amazon <!– | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads –>

~~~

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

With one good score Billie Carson hoped she could begin to repair the damage from her past. But after three hours kicking rocks in the sweltering North Phoenix sun, all Billie had to show for the effort was a bag of beer cans and three Jeep lug nuts. She knew most folks wrote her off as a scavenger, but Billie fancied herself as a treasure-hunter. It was a romantic notion, in her mind—always looking for that one big find. She’d dug up wallets, rings, car parts, and good scrap metal out here. Not the crap you tripped over in the bottom of a desert wash, but leftover copper wire from building sites and steel tire rims left behind on the side of the asphalt. The recycling yards paid you good money for that shit, but money could never really make up for the broken lives she’d left behind. How could you repay the ghosts of men you’d led to their death?

Billie looked at the meager haul in her black garbage bag and calculated she wouldn’t be able to buy a cold beer at Paula’s Roadhouse on the way home, let alone help anyone else. Besides, the Roadhouse made her sit outside on the patio with her beer, on the days she could afford one. Paula told her once she made the regulars uncomfortable and wasn’t welcome inside. The beer was cold out on the patio and she figured she wouldn’t like the company inside anyway.

She knew there were treasures out here among the Saguaro cactus and creosote brush waiting to be discovered. Hell, she found her Maui Jim sunglasses out here, you could barely see the crack in the left lens after you got used to it. If she had the money, she’d buy one of them fancy electronic metal detectors that beeped and chirped when you found the good stuff. Paula would let her inside the Roadhouse then, for sure. Until Billie found her big score, she’d keep her head down and kick some more rocks.

Dry, spindly brush dotted the roadside. Thin branches cracked when you knocked up against them. The broken limbs were sharp and left red welts if you ventured too far off the beaten path. Motorists tossed, or lost, most of the good stuff she found a few feet off the road. Billie couldn’t imagine a world where you lost hard earned jewelry out your window and didn’t bother to stop and go find it. If tourists on their way to Cave Creek, or Sedona, were so well off they didn’t need their stuff–that was fine by her.

Billie spotted a set of tire tracks off the asphalt and her heart began to race. What if she found a broken refrigerator dumped in the brush? She could eat for a month on what she’d pull for scrapping a hulking appliance. She’d figure a way to drag it out of the desert before someone else grabbed it. The wide tracks bent behind a rock outcropping digging three inches into the sandy desert floor. Billie knew the vehicle was laden with treasure if it left tire tracks up to her ankles.

She slipped a dingy blue bandanna from her head and wiped the gritty sweat at the back of her neck. A makeshift canteen, fashioned from a Gatorade bottle and a length of drapery cord hung from Billie’s neck. She unscrewed the plastic cap and poured the last of her water on the bandanna. The soaked cloth cooled her head for the climb to the top of the hardscrabble rock outcropping.

The view from the small rise looked down into a deep, sandy wash where the memory of scant seasonal rainfall from the monsoons faded into chalky dust. Patches of tinder-dry brush lined the edges of the dry bed. The heavens hadn’t seen fit to nourish their shallow roots for months. A moonscape of tumbled rocks, sand, and broken branches, left behind by a distant flash flood, lined the bed. At the center of the sandy basin, the deep ruts ended. A second set of tire tracks painted a story of a stop before backing into the middle of the sand. At the end of the tracks no prize waited for her; no refrigerator, no mattress, not even a crumpled beer can. Whatever it was, Billie figured someone else got here first. She crawled down the rock ledge to the floor of the basin, kicking smaller rocks and watching for rattlesnakes along the way.

Down in the wash, the dry brush was taller than it seemed from the view up on the rise. Thin dried fingers of creosote bush towered over Billie’s five-seven height, and the vegetation screened off access to the dry bed. The brush lay crushed and broken at the edge of the parched earth where the vehicle punched through the barrier. Billie hiked the plowed path, where dry shattered twigs snapped under her boots releasing the acrid resin smell from the creosote bush.

Hidden from the road, Billie knew this was the perfect spot for a quick illegal dump. Yet, there was nothing here. Maybe it was a quickie dump of another sort, she thought, a make-out spot for a couple of hormone-engorged teenagers.

She turned and spotted a bright white patch in the brush at the bottom of the draw. A few steps closer and Billie made out four fifty-five gallon drums partially hidden under a layer of broken creosote branches. She wouldn’t have seen them if it weren’t for the blue and white stripes emblazoned on the sides of the containers.

“Well, shit. This don’t get any better.”

Billie swiveled around and tried to catch a glimpse of anyone who might be keeping an eye on the barrels. She knew she wasn’t the smartest woman, but what she did know was people who stashed things in the desert, generally don’t want them found. She also knew you dumped things out here to get rid of them fast.

Billie got on her knees next to one of the barrels, tossed off the layer of broken branches, and the hot metal surface burned her palm. She wrapped her bandanna around her fingers and forced the barrel upright. It was heavy, but she felt the contents shift as the barrel moved. She figured a land developer or machine shop owner needed a place to dump used oil, or chemicals they’d have to pay the county to take off their hands. Billie figured the empty drums would net her ten bucks a piece, easy. She’d dump the oil, or whatever was in the cylinder, back in the dusty wash. Her daddy always poured his motor oil out in the desert and Billie never even saw so much as a sick coyote.

She strained with the locking ring on the lid. It wouldn’t budge. Billie ran a finger across dark marks where tack welds burnt the paint away from the locking ring.

Something good was in this barrel, for sure. Why go through this effort for used motor oil? If it was old pesticide, maybe she could wrangle a reward from one of them cactus-lovin’ environmental places.

Billie grabbed a rock and hammered it against the welds. They chipped away after a few blows, and the bent locking ring fell at her feet. With the blade of a folding knife Billie kept on her belt, she pried under the lid. The lid popped and released a strong odor from within the sealed container. Billie grabbed her bandana and held it over her nose. The stench was unmistakable–decomposing flesh.

She used the tip of her knife blade, lifted the lid, and sent it clattering off the top of the drum. Billie held her forearm against her nose and blocked as much of the unbearable smell as she could. She stood frozen in horror at the sight of a brown-skinned man in the barrel, bloated and pale. The dead man’s slack jaw opened wide in a silent scream, his eyes bulging outward, caught in a last plea for help that never came. Billie saw the man’s fingertips crusted with a yellow powder and an acrid chemical odor wafted up from the drum.

Billie dropped to her knees, felt suddenly dizzy, and her chest tightened. She feared the other barrels trapped the souls of three more people. She’d stumbled across a secret that was important enough to kill four people. Would she be number five?  

Chapter 2

Mustard-yellow dust clung to the windshield and managed to seep in through the vents in Nathan Parker’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office SUV. The road to Billie Carson’s place was little more than a set of well-used ruts carved in the desert floor. Three miles of bumps and washed-out potholes soured Parker’s disposition with each jolt to the Ford’s stiff suspension. A whisper of anxiety washed through him every time he drove this isolated stretch of north valley road.

He spotted the makeshift memorial on the shoulder and pulled off the road. He waited for the road dust to pass his door before he stepped out. The simple white wooden cross first appeared three years ago and Parker never found out who was responsible—responsible for the memorial or for the murder that took place here.

It wasn’t any murder, but the brutal slaying of his partner, detective Josh McMillan. They’d been assigned to interrupt the flow of undocumented immigrants using the remote strip of washboard road to circumvent the Immigration and Customs Enforcement checkpoints in the valley. Most often, the vans, box trucks, or sedans packed with migrants would spot the Maricopa County Sheriff’s vehicles blocking the road and snap a quick “U” turn. Until one didn’t.

Parker and McMillan blocked opposite ends of the road, four miles apart from one another. McMillan called over the radio letting Parker know he’d spotted a vehicle approaching his position.

“Got one coming my direction. Dark blue panel van riding low. He’s not turning around like the others.”

“Want me to head your way?” Parker responded.

“Nah. A coyote wouldn’t be this stupid. Probably a construction worker heading out to Anthem. I’ll chase him back out.”

Parker heard a click and static over the radio two minutes later.

“Mac? 10-9,” Parker said, asking for McMillan to repeat the message.

Another click in response. The hills and washes in this section of the desert were often the cause of garbled radio traffic.

“Come again, Mac?”

Parker didn’t get a response and pulled his SUV around and headed to McMillan’s location. It was coming up on end-of-shift and Parker wanted to make sure Mac got out on time. Mac’s wife Ellie would be waiting for him at their Lamaze class in Glendale. Don’t make a pregnant woman wait.

Parker tensed when he spotted McMillan’s SUV, door ajar with no sign of the blue van his partner reported.

Parker sped up and slid to a stop next to Mac’s vehicle.

He jumped out, ran around the parked SUV and found McMillan laying in the roadway, a pool of blood around him from multiple stab wounds.

The Medical Examiner later told him his partner died immediately after suffering the stab wounds. Parker knew better. He’d heard the radio clicks.

Regret didn’t come close. If he’d responded faster, if he changed locations with McMillan, if he’d taken a position within visual range… If only.

The killer took McMillan’s body camera and the dash cam in the SUV didn’t record the fatal moment. The slightest profile was caught on screen for a few frames. Blurry and at a distance the killer wore a dark t-shirt and a star tattoo was visible on his left forearm.

The van was found abandoned in a wash five miles away with evidence it carried several people in the cargo area. A coyote killed McMillan to ensure his human cargo made it to their destination. The price of admission to this country paid in blood.

As Parker regarded the memorial, it brought back the regret and anger once more.

One day, he’d make it right.

He pulled back on the road with one more glance at the faded wooden cross in the rear view. McMillan’s death would never be behind him.

Parker focused on the road ahead and the call he’d received from Billie Carson claiming she’d found a body. Billie didn’t frighten easily, yet the fear came through in her voice. Stumbling over a corpse would make anyone a bit skittish.

Billie knew Parker’s number by heart. Eighteen months ago, he’d helped Billie avoid a trespassing charge filed by a local landowner. The landowner, as it turned out, ran a meth lab in a run-down trailer parked out in the desert. Since then, Billie called Parker at least once a week and reported stray dogs, people camped in the hills harassing immigrants on their way north from Mexico, or “them damn bikers” who smoked weed at Paula’s. He tolerated Billie’s constant calls because, he knew, in her heart Billie was a good person who got dealt a bad hand. It wasn’t her fault that life chased her to this remote location. There was a quality about the woman that intrigued Parker. She never talked about her past and mostly kept to herself. People didn’t give her enough credit—whatever she’d been through, Billie was a survivor.

Parker agreed to meet at Billie’s place because it sounded like she’d gotten liquored up–again—and needed some time to sober up. It was walking distance from the roadhouse so Billie wouldn’t get popped for driving under the influence for the third time.

Parker pulled up to Billie’s dented fifteen-foot trailer, and a cloud of dust washed over the relic. Billie sprang up from her perch on a plastic milk crate and ran to Parker’s window. The desert dweller was worked up this time, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“Hurry. I’ll show you where he is,” Billie said as soon as the SUV stopped in front of her trailer.

“Slow down, Billie,” Parker said, lowering the window.

“I’m tellin’ you I saw him with my own eyes.”

“Who?”

“The man! The dead man,” Billie said with a slur.

“You been drinking again, Billie?”

“Damn right I have. After what I found…” Billie grew silent and stared at her trembling hands.

Parker hadn’t seen Billie this agitated and drunk at the same time. Whatever she’d run across in the desert spooked her. Parker let out a sigh, dropped the gearshift into drive, and said, “All right.”

Billie was one of the locals who recognized the landscape by sight, the rock color, and the vegetation. So, it didn’t surprise Parker when Billie told him, “Go north on the 60 and turn east when you see the ridge with the red rock quarry.”

Moments after he made the turn Billie pointed to a wide spot on the shoulder.

“Park here. We gotta walk in from here. It’s down in the wash.”

The outside temperature gauge on the dashboard read 111 degrees, and Parker didn’t relish an afternoon stroll in the desert. “How far?”

“A hundred yards, more or less.”

“Jesus Christ, Billie—you’d better be right about this.”

Parker pulled the county SUV off the road, shoved the gearshift into park and said, “I don’t see a damn thing out here. You sure this is the spot?”

Billie wasn’t there to respond, she’d already bolted from the vehicle, leaving the passenger door ajar so heat poured inside the SUV. Parker got out and tossed on a MCSO ball cap to cut the glare from the sun.

“Over here!” Billie said, pointing to the rock outcropping she climbed earlier. “On the other side.”

Parker closed the passenger door, shoved his balled fists in his pants pockets and joined Billie at the base of the rock. The hardscrabble ledge reflected heat into the wash, and each step down became more uncomfortable.

Billie pointed and Parker saw three barrels on their sides, beneath a thin cover of dried and broken brush. A single barrel stood upright in front of the others. The lid lay in the dirt nearby.

Parker grabbed Billie’s elbow as she started toward the barrels.

“You need to stay here while I check it out.”

“I found them.”

“I know that, Billie. You can’t go messing with what might be evidence—more than you already have.”

She hung her head at the sting of the last comment. “Be careful. There’s some strong chemical smell coming off the open barrel. Damn near made me pass out.”

Parker made his way to the barrels, making sure his path did not trample over the deep wheel ruts in the wash. He saw the crown of a man’s head as he approached.

“Son-of-a-bitch.”

He snagged his cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number from memory. “It’s Parker. Tell the Watch Commander we’ve got another body drop. Looks like four this time. We’re gonna need the full boat—medical examiner, crime scene folks, and a couple of units to secure the scene.” He gave the location and hung up.

Billie crept up next to Parker.

“Another one?”

Parker nodded and let out a sigh. “Yeah. This is the third one in a month.”

“Who—what happened to them?”

“There’s been no identification on them. Best guess is they were illegals coming up from Mexico and got caught up in border violence.”

“Probably one of those damned land pirates. The coyotes these days extort poor people for money to cross over. Wouldn’t be the first time them cowards left their cargo for dead. Nobody deserves to be left like that.”

“No, Billie, they don’t. No one deserves what these coyotes bring up from the border.” Billie blinked in response. “You said you caught an odor from that barrel? Something chemical?” Parker asked.

“Made me light-headed. It was a little sweet, but had an oven cleaner smell, ya know?”

“You feeling okay, now?” Parker asked.

“I think what I’m feelin’ now is nerves.”

“As soon as the paramedics show up, I want them to check you over. I don’t know what you got into. I want to make sure you’re all right.”

“Thanks for that. Been a while since anyone cared. But, I’m fine. What I’m feelin’ is more about who done this and why they’d dump them people out here. What if they saw me find them?”

“They were going to be found, Billie. If this is like the others, whoever dropped them here didn’t go through too much effort to hide them. They could’ve buried them or taken them deeper off the main road. Tells me there wasn’t a concern about finding the bodies.”

“Then why do this at all? These bastards make a habit of the cut and run, leavin’ people locked in the back of a truck at the first sign of an Immigration patrol gettin’ too close.” Billie said.

“I don’t know what to make of it, Billie. Come on let’s get out of the sun.”

The pair returned to Parker’s SUV and escaped into an air-conditioned refuge.

Parker began making notes. “You still working with the refugee groups helping the illegals once they land on this side of the border?”

Billie shot him a glance. “I forgot I told you about what I been doin’. I got no problem with people tryin’ to work for a better life.”

“I get it, Billie, I do. It’s just—against the law. Some of those groups are a little radical. You gotta be careful, Billie. Not everyone sneaking over the border is a good guy. There’s some violent criminal elements…”

“Like there is up here. A border don’t make it no different. I remember what happened to your partner. The man who done him weren’t looking to come to this country to start over—he was a thug, bent on doin’ evil. Different from families looking for a future.”

“The Coalition doesn’t have the reputation for screening out the bad seeds,” Parker said.

“You think this has to do with the Immigrant Coalition?”

“No. Only wondering if you’re still working with them and if they’ve heard anything about these deaths.”

“These people have nothing. They’ve left everything behind and they’re usually running from drugs, gangs, and poverty. If I can give them a little support—it isn’t too much to ask.”

“Some think groups like the Coalition encourage more people to cross over. Or, they’re responsible for getting a bunch of people to come here and take our jobs.”

“Is that what you think, Nathan? I don’t see lines of people waitin’ to go and work in the fields, or workin’ construction jobs out in the heat. The people who say those things are too lazy to get off their asses and put in a day’s work.”

“Whoa, Billie. I get it. I’m not worried about people coming and taking jobs no one is lining up to do, it’s all the crime and violence that comes with it. You gotta look at it from my side too. Being here means they broke the law. There is a legal way of getting in.”

“Because they’re undocumented, you think it justifies what happened to them?” Billie said, pointing to the barrels.

“No. No, Billie, nothing makes it right. But someone is doing this and it could be a response to what groups like the Coalition represent. The anti-immigrant hardliners.”

Billie fell silent and glanced toward the dumping ground. “These people needed help.”

“It’s not like you have a trust fund to give away to the migrants crossing over,” Parker said.

“I have enough.”

Parker’s thoughts shifted to the dead in the barrels. If they crossed the border illegally, what made them desperate enough to risk everything, only to end up dumped in a dirty desert wash?

***

Excerpt from Dead Drop by James L’Etoile. Copyright 2022 by James L’Etoile. Reproduced with permission from James L’Etoile. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

James L'Etoile

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness on prison and jail operations. He has been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His published novels include: Black Label, At What Cost, Bury the Past, and Little River. Look for Dead Drop in the summer of 2022.

You can find out more at:
www.jamesletoile.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @crimewriter
Instagram – @authorjamesletoile
Twitter – @jamesletoile
Facebook – @AuthorJamesLetoile

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Tour Participants:

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GIVEAWAY!

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#5DayMiniBlitz “Underrated” by Morwenna Blackwood

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“I stand as close as I can to the Liver Building without looking proper weird and tip my head back. My eyes can’t focus properly, but I can make out a turquoise shape right at the top, so I mouth ’iya to Bella. I’m a bit soft on the Liver Birds. They’re 300-odd feet up in the air, so they should be able to see everything, but they’re chained down…”

A story of the far-reaching effects of unrequited love and drug (ab)use, Underrated follows five lads who are just trying to make things better for themselves. In Liverpool and on the south Devon coast, their lives entangle as they turn to cocaine.

While some people take drugs to escape their circumstances, others deal drugs to escape theirs. But is escape ever really an option?

Purchase Link – https://mybook.to/underrated

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EXCERPT

Will has rented out the flat above his, to Kayleigh. He’s in love with her, and they’ve hooked up a few times, although she doesn’t feel the same. Will’s fallen into dealing drugs to make ends meet. A new bloke has moved into the building opposite his, and Will has suspicions about him.

I know who shot the crow. It’s that weirdo who lives in the top flat of the building opposite mine. I’ve seen him, up in that protruding attic window, with his binoculars. That’s why I work in the back room, even though it’s dark. He watches Kayleigh. I know he does. I ought to tell the police. I ought to tell the police a lot of things, but if I did, someone would tell them lots of things about me, too, and I can’t have that.

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Morwenna BlackwoodAuthor Bio  

When she was six years old, Morwenna wrote and endless story about a frog, and hasn’t stopped writing since.

She’s the author of bestselling noir psychological thrillers, The (D)Evolution of Us, and Glasshouse, has an MA in Creative Writing, and can usually be found down by the sea. Morwenna’s third novel, Underrated, was published by #darkstroke on Valentine’s Day, 2022, and she has several works in progress.

She often thinks about that frog.

Social Media Links

Website

Facebook

Twitter – @MorwennaBlackw1

Instagram – morwennablackwood_

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*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfillment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.

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#BookTour “Among the Innocent” by Mary Alford

July 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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Synopsis:

When Leah Miller’s entire Amish family was murdered ten years ago, the person believed responsible took his own life. Since then, Leah left the Amish and joined the police force. Now, after another Amish woman is found murdered with the same MO, it becomes clear that the wrong man may have been blamed for her family’s deaths.

As Leah and the new police chief, Dalton Cooper, work long hours struggling to fit the pieces together in order to catch the killer, they can’t help but grow closer. When secrets from both of their pasts begin to surface, an unexpected connection between them is revealed. But this is only the beginning. Could it be that the former police chief framed an innocent man to keep the biggest secret of all buried? And what will it mean for Leah–and Dalton–when the full truth comes to light?
USA Today bestselling author Mary Alford keeps you guessing as two determined souls plumb the dark depths of the past in order to forge a brighter future–together.
“Among the Innocent is no buggy ride BUT A RACE TO STOP A KILLER” – DiAnn Mills, bestselling and award-winning author

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Fleming H. Revell Company

Publication Date: June 7th 2022

Number of Pages: 297

ISBN: 0800740262 (ISBN13: 9780800740269)

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christianbook.com | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

Prologue

He drove by the house again. The second time today. All because of her.

The sight of his car rolling down the dirt road in front of her isolated farm filled Beth Zook with thoughts not proper for an Amish girl. A cloud of dust followed the car, instantly covering the freshly washed sheet she’d hung out to dry minutes earlier. Despite the sweltering July heat, he’d put down the window. Was it because he wanted her to see him as he eased by?

He waved when he saw her looking, and she reacted like a moth drawn to a flame. Beth had never met anyone so unpredictable before. One minute he teased, the next his eyes smoldered with such intensity that it frightened her.

Looking at his handsome face sent the butterflies in her stomach scattering. A flash of a smile revealed white teeth, perfect like everything else about him.

Beth waved back, then glanced over her shoulder. What would Mamm and her sister say if they noticed? She covered her mouth to suppress the giggle. She’d been giggling a lot lately.

Too soon . . .

Her head warned it was too soon for these emotions, yet

her heart threatened to explode from her chest each time they were together.

Heat flooded her cheeks as she recalled his kisses from the night before. She’d been so afraid her parents would wake and hear her slipping out of her bedroom window. A sense of fear and adventure had followed her each step of the way as she’d crossed the yard in the pitch-black dark of night to the old Miller barn where he’d waited for her.

At first, she’d been afraid to go there after what had happened all those years ago. Four members of the Miller family had been found dead inside that barn. Leah Miller, the oldest daughter, was the only survivor. Whispers around the community about the unspeakable evil that had transpired that night could still be heard.

When Beth told her suitor about the murders, his eyes gleamed with excitement. While he seemed to enjoy envisioning what had happened back then, the barn gave Beth the creeps. But she kept that to herself because he made her feel special. Beautiful. Important. For the first time in her life, she longed for things not found among the Plain people of St. Ignatius. A life of pretty things. Like he promised.

Last night when they’d met, he’d asked her to run away with him. Her heart had overflowed with eagerness until reality tamped down her happiness, and Beth realized she wasn’t ready to leave her home. Her family. While she remained torn between staying Amish forever and leaving with him, he’d told her he would drive by her house every day until she said yes. Part of her was thrilled—intrigued at the consuming way he watched her. The other part was scared. Beth did not understand his almost feral wildness.

She took the dust-covered sheet down and reached for the next one, pinning it to the clothesline with unsteady hands. When Mamm wasn’t watching, she’d sneak inside and rewash the soiled one. That way there wouldn’t be questions to answer. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the car slowing.

Brake lights flashed. She picked up the next sheet and hung it. When he honked, she whirled toward the sound while praying the family wouldn’t come to investigate. He slid out and leaned against the rotting fence post near the Miller property. Many times, Beth wished she could be as daring. He did not live by the same rules as the Amish. In his world, anything was possible. She still couldn’t imagine why he wanted her. A man so handsome could have his choice of any girl, Englisch or Plain. Why her?

When he realized he had her attention, he motioned her over. Beth felt obliged to shake her head, though she’d thought about him throughout the day. Was eager to see him again. She anticipated his kisses with every beat of her heart.

She touched her hands to her burning cheeks. Such thoughts were not gut, but she couldn’t help how she felt. With him, Beth felt truly alive. The hardest part was she had no one with whom to share how she felt. Her friend Eva listened, but Beth sensed she might be jealous.

She’d almost told her older sister Colette about him last Saturday night before the biweekly church service, but she’d lost her nerve. Married and ten years older, Colette had three kinner of her own.

Besides, her sister was always so serious. She would not understand this reckless feeling.

Until her sixteenth birthday, Beth hadn’t either. She’d loved everything about the Amish way of life. Then, she’d started her rumspringa and had gotten a taste of the freedom of the Englischer world. She liked it. Before him, she’d planned to join the church and eventually marry Caleb Wagler, but not before enjoying every minute of her running around. Now, Beth was not sure she wanted to spend the rest of her life in St. Ignatius, living on a farm like her sister with a house full of kinner pulling on her apron. He offered her excitement. Adventure. Love. How could she not accept those gifts?

She hung the last of the sheets and picked her way across the patches of grass in the bare yard to where he stood. The glint in his eyes as he watched her wasn’t anything like the way Caleb looked at her.

Beth stopped a few feet away. With the fence separating them, she snuck a peek over her shoulder. “You should not be here.” She tried to sound stern but failed miserably.

Without warning, he jumped the fence. Beth giggled as he grabbed her hands and tugged her closer. “Yes, I should. You belong to me, Beth Zook.”

Her heart skipped a beat at his proclamation, and she couldn’t help imagining what their life together would be like.

Foolishness, Beth. You waste the day with all your imprudent thoughts, she could almost hear Colette saying.

“Mamm will notice I’m gone soon. You must leave now.” She tried to tug her wrists free, but he tightened his grip to the point of pain, and a flash of anger glittered in those deep dark eyes. “You are hurting me,” she murmured, tears forming. This was a side of him she hadn’t seen before. A cruel side she didn’t much like.

He let her go. Smiled. Everything became right again with the curve of his lips. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Beth.” The gentleness in his tone soothed her worries away. “You’re just so pretty.”

“You are such a flatterer.” She playfully swatted at his arm but secretly loved the way he spoke.

He leaned close and planted a kiss on her lips right there in broad daylight. Her legs turned to gelatin. A sigh escaped as warmth coursed through her limbs. After another stolen kiss, he released her.

“It’s true. Don’t be coy. You know you’re pretty.” His gaze skirted past her to the house. “And you deserve more than this life. Come away with me now.”

More than anything she wanted to, but when she thought about her mamm’s pained reaction to her middle daughter forsaking their faith, she couldn’t do it. “I told you, I cannot run away with you. And I have to go back to my chores.” She turned. Then, emboldened by his claims, she swung around, framed his face with her hands, and kissed him earnestly.

He chuckled at her brazenness. He snatched her hand once more. Though she secretly relished his desire to be with her so badly, she pretended differently. “Please, you must let me go. Mamm will see.”

“I don’t care.” A second passed before he finally relented. “Only if you promise to meet me tonight at our place.”

The eagerness in his eyes sent a shiver through her body. It made her hesitate. This was the man she adored. Surely, there was nothing to fear.

“I have something special planned for you,” he added with a cajoling smile when she wavered. “Something you’ll like.”

“If I can,” she whispered and pulled her hand free. They both knew she’d be there. As she ran across the scorching earth, Beth peered over her shoulder. He still stood next to the fence, grinning when he noticed her looking. She stumbled over the uneven ground. Heard him laughing.

As she stepped up on the porch, the front door opened and Mamm stood in the doorway, hands on hips. Her wrinkled brow furrowed at her daughter’s labored breathing.

Komm, help your sister prepare supper.” Her mother studied Beth with narrowed eyes. Took in her flushed face. Her nervous hands. Had Mamm ever felt this way about Daed?

“Who is that out on the road?”

Beth struggled to keep her face blank. “Someone passing by, I suppose.” With one final glance his way and a secret smile, she hurried to go inside.

Her mother cast another disapproving stare at the car as Beth entered the house.

“I have something special planned for you.”

It was hard to keep the excitement to herself. She couldn’t wait to see the mysterious surprise he had in store.

ONE

Heat rose in waves off the blacktop where Leah Miller had parked her police cruiser. Recent statistics showed that the crime rate in St. Ignatius, Montana, was at an all-time low. Today, Leah shot radar at the occasional passing vehicle to occupy her shift until something more challenging came along.

Leah looped her raven hair into a bun at the nape of her neck, seeking relief from the record-breaking hot spell the county was suffering through this July. Her uniform clung uncomfortably to her skin while her thoughts wandered to the things she planned to do when her shift ended. She’d need to check in on Kitty before heading over to have dinner with Marge.

A few years back, Leah had bought her tiny house on Pope Lane. It had taken all her savings, but it was worth it because it represented a huge milestone: putting down roots for the first time since that horrific night. She’d even brought home the stray tabby cat that hung out behind the police station. They were still adjusting to each other, since Kitty had been on her own for a while. In the six months Kitty had lived at Leah’s house, Kitty mostly stayed in the laundry room except at night, when she preferred the foot of Leah’s bed.

Since Chief Ellis Petri’s death, Leah had been spending as much time as she could with her adoptive mother, Marge. Losing Ellis had been hard on both of them, but Marge had been struggling with health issues as well.

Marge and Ellis Petri had been Leah’s rock since that night ten years ago when her world changed forever. Several years earlier, Marge and Leah’s mother had struck up an unlikely friendship, and Marge had become a frequent visitor at Leah’s home. Sometimes Ellis came along. After what happened, Leah had left the Amish community, despite her neighbors offering to take her in. To survive, she’d had to let that part of her life go. Ellis and Marge had taken her in. They’d become her world.

And now Ellis was gone.

Let it go. The past is written and done, but you’re not.

In the distance, dark clouds gathered over the Mission Mountains. A storm was on its way. Despite the sweltering heat, a cold shiver sped down Leah’s spine. Something bad was approaching. She could feel it moving in.

It’s just the time of year, she told herself. The anniversary of what happened always churned up stuff.

She’d seen plenty of terrible things in her four years on the force. Yet, at sixteen, Leah had become personally acquainted with the devastating effects tragedy had on the living. Her grief had wrapped its spindly limbs around her and took up residence in her soul. That night in the barn—the things she’d witnessed—had imprinted itself in her DNA.

The woman staring back in the rearview mirror was an older version of that frightened Amish girl whose life had changed forever with a flick of a knife. The scar on her neck was a constant reminder of how close to death she’d come and of those who hadn’t been so lucky.

Leah dragged in a deep breath and dropped her eyes from the mirror. Better to keep that door closed. Too many bad things hid behind it. For Marge’s sake, she needed to stay strong.

Leah shoved her dark aviator sunglasses into place like a defensive shield against the world. She focused on the upcoming car cresting the hilltop.

“Leah? Are you there?” Dispatcher Sugar Wallace’s voice came through the police radio, immediately drawing Leah’s attention from the approaching vehicle.

“Yes, Sugar, I’m here. What’s up?” The car spotted Leah and crawled past. Its speed registered twenty on the radar’s screen. “Henry needs your help on a call out in the Amish community.”

Leah’s stomach knotted.

“Josiah Zook called from the Mission General Store. He said his daughter Beth is missing.”

At the mention of her former neighbor, Josiah Zook, Leah was immediately transported back to that barn again. Watching as a psychopath slaughtered her entire family.

Their deaths came at the hands of a masked stranger who had entered their house, tied everyone up, and forced Mamm and Daed, her sister Ruth, and brother Elijah into the barn. Then, he’d systematically slit each of their throats in front of Leah, saving her for last. She remembered him standing over her. His hot breath whispering against her ear, “You’ll always belong to me.” Even now, the words had the power to reduce her to that terrified young girl, so certain she’d die along with her family.

“Leah? Did you hear me?” Sugar repeated.

With her heart racing, Leah struggled for calm and failed. “Sorry, yes. I know the family.” She’d been friends with Josiah’s older daughter, Colette. “I’ll head over and assist.”

“Thanks, Leah. Let’s hope the girl shows up soon. I don’t want to think about something bad happening to one of those innocent people.”

Sugar’s words fell like knives in her heart. The Amish were peaceful, God-fearing folks. Violence in the community was a rare thing, yet not unheard of. Leah was living proof. Former police chief Ellis Petri had worked hard to help her achieve closure, yet the suspected killer’s end had been just as messed up as his heinous massacre of her family. Even to this day, Leah wondered if the wrong man had died in that fire.

She whipped the cruiser out onto the road and headed toward the Amish community.

The only time she went back there was on a call, and on those occasions, she did her best to avoid her family’s homestead. Yet there would be no avoiding it today. The Zook home was a stone’s throw from where she’d grown up.

Leah couldn’t imagine what her life would have been like without Ellis and Marge. They’d become her entire world. Marge would hold her and assure her everything was going to be okay when Leah woke up in the middle of the night screaming after reliving the nightmare. Yet despite Marge’s tender loving care, it was Ellis whom Leah chose to be like. She’d joined the St. Ignatius Police Department after college because she wanted to do good for people, like Ellis.

The sparse community spread out before her. A horse and buggy passed her on the road heading to town. The Amish man waved. Leah returned his greeting. Rolling hayfields spread out toward the stunning vistas of the Mission Mountains. Overwhelming memories came pouring from her heart. Most of them good. All contaminated by that day.

Leah slowed her speed out of respect for the buggy and others that might be traveling the road. A familiar darkness pressed in. Her breaths came quick. Straight ahead, her former house appeared through the haze of summer.

Leah couldn’t take her eyes off the old place. She’d lived there until a few months after her sixteenth birthday. In her head the house was as she’d left it that night. Yet the harsh reality was it had sat vacant all those years. Its white paint had faded to gray and was peeling from too many brutal Montana winters. The barn, some distance from the house, hovered over the place like some ancient gargoyle and just as frightening.

A lump formed in her throat that she couldn’t swallow. Tears scalded her eyes. Leah’s grip tightened on the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. She wouldn’t cry. Hadn’t since the funeral. She’d built a wall of stone around her heart no person, including Ellis and Marge, had been able to fully penetrate. It was best that way. Her past had taught her stones could break apart and thrash her heart to pieces at a second’s notice.

She shifted her attention to the Zook farm and let the past return to its tenuous resting place.

Officer Henry Landry’s patrol vehicle was parked in front of the house beside a second cruiser. As soon as Leah turned onto the drive, another vehicle captured her attention. A familiar one. Ellis’s old police SUV. A glaring reminder of more change coming.

A new chief was scheduled to take over the helm of the St. Ignatius Police Department, though no one expected him so soon. Why was Chief Cooper on this call? She leaned forward and peered through the dusty windshield at the vehicles while resisting the desire to call Sugar for answers.

The small police department was still reeling from the intentional shooting of one of their own. Chief Ellis Petri had died on a deserted stretch of mountain road almost a year earlier to the date from a point-blank gunshot wound. With no leads, Ellis’s case was dangerously close to turning cold.

Now, someone else would sit at his desk. Drive his SUV. Take his place. Leah did her best to quell her resentment. It was bad enough they’d lost Ellis in such a violent way. That he could be replaced so easily was like twisting the knife in the wound. Henry had obviously been watching for her. He stepped out onto the porch as Leah pulled up alongside his patrol car. By the time she got out, Henry was standing by her door with a flustered expression on his face. Leah often wondered if a good strong wind might blow the Barney Fife–thin officer away. “Boy, am I glad to see you. They’ve been asking for you.”

Henry pointed to the house and lowered his voice. “He’s in there too.” He wiped sweat from his forehead and cast a nervous glance back to the Zook home.

“Why’s he here anyway? I thought Cooper wasn’t coming in until later in the week.” Leah didn’t even bother to hide her disapproval.

Henry shrugged. “He was at the station when I arrived. He heard the call come in.”

“What’s he like?” The question was out before she could stop it. Gossiping about the new chief was not her finest moment. “Kind of intense,” Henry said with the same amount of anxiety that had consumed Leah since the announcement came through from the mayor. “Sam sure was mad when he didn’t get the job, though you’re the one who’s practically run the force since Ellis passed. I’d hoped you’d take over as chief.”

Henry had been on the job only a few years and had made his fair share of rookie mistakes, but Leah had liked him from the beginning and had done her best to help him whenever possible. For that, Henry seemed determined to put her on a pedestal.

“I appreciate the compliment, but I’m just an officer like you. We’ll leave the big decisions to someone with a higher pay grade than us.”

“Yeah, right,” Henry confirmed with a nod. “We’d better get inside. I can’t explain it, Leah, but I have a bad feeling about this.”

Did he mean the case or the new chief? With those uneasy words hanging between them, Leah followed Henry into the simple Amish home that belonged to people she’d once loved like a second family.

As Leah stepped foot inside the living room, it was like going back to her youth. The simple furnishings hadn’t changed much. Same threadbare sofa. Same two functional rockers near the woodstove. A chest in the corner held the quilts Miriam and her daughters had crafted. Hooks adorned the walls near the door for coats and lanterns. A scenic calendar on one wall was turned to the current month. Behind the sofa, a framed picture of the Ten Commandments had been there for as long as Leah could remember.

Back then, she and Colette Zook had done everything together. They talked about what their lives might be like in the future. A husband. A houseful of kids. Their enduring friendship foremost in every part of their lives.

Regret seeped into Leah’s heart. She’d left the community and Colette and never looked back, even though her dear friend had tried to reach out to her many times. It wasn’t right, the way she’d cut Colette out of her life. In her defense, at the time it seemed like the only way to keep from losing her mind.

“Leah, oh Leah!” Miriam Zook spotted her and immediately pushed to her feet. “I am so glad you came.” Miriam sobbed inconsolably. “Our Beth is missing. Josiah checked the entire property, but there’s no sign of her. We’re afraid something has happened.” The show of emotion was out of character for the woman, who rarely expressed her feelings.

Leah patted Miriam’s arm. “We’re going to do everything we can to find your daughter and bring her home to you.” She did her best to comfort Miriam while praying her words wouldn’t come back to haunt her.

Miriam seemed to latch on to what Leah had said as if it were a lifeline. Her dark, red-rimmed eyes searched Leah’s face. She sniffed twice and squared her shoulders.

Leah guided the woman back to the sofa, where she sank beside her husband and a young girl who appeared to be around eight. The Zooks had another child. She hadn’t realized the family had expanded. Her last contact with the family had been at the funeral.

“This is our daughter Katie.” Josiah made the introductions. Katie was a younger version of Colette. Same silver-blond hair and deep blue eyes.

Josiah placed his arm around his weeping wife. He’d aged in the ten years since Leah had last seen him. The Amish way of life was not an easy one. His hair, now almost entirely white, matched his neatly trimmed beard. The worry on his face drove home the reason they were all here. Josiah was an honest, trusting man who kept his faith in Gott and his attention on hard work. Worry wasn’t part of his subsistence. Until now.

Another man who had been seated in a rocker near the woodstove had risen when Leah entered the room. Leah’s attention latched on to the new man in charge as he came her way. Tall and fit, he was probably former military if the way he carried himself was any indication. He wore his dark hair cut short. Brown eyes captured hers as he closed the space between them. Henry’s description of the man came to mind. “Intense” seemed fitting. He extended his hand. “I’m Dalton Cooper, the new chief.

Sorry to have to make the introductions this way.” He kept his voice low enough for only her to hear. “Sam and Ethan are searching the property and surrounding area.”

Leah shook his hand and forced words out. “It’s nice to meet you, Chief Cooper.”

“Dalton,” he said with a brief smile. He glanced past her to where Henry stood in the doorway still. “Why don’t you run through what we have for Leah?”

Henry snapped to attention and opened his notepad. “The call came in around 7:15 a.m. Mr. Zook phoned from the Mission General Store to say his daughter was missing from her room. She’d gone to bed at the same time as the rest of the family the night before, but when she didn’t come down for breakfast, Mr. and Mrs. Zook checked in on her and discovered her bed was empty. That was at 6:00 a.m.”

Around the time when the morning household chores were ending. Leah looked around the familiar room, mulling over Henry’s statement.

The stale aroma of that morning’s breakfast, probably still uneaten, wafted out from the kitchen. She remembered the many times she’d spent the night here growing up. At daybreak, the family gathered around the table. A flicker of a smile touched her lips as she recalled Miriam bustling about to make sure everyone was fed and ready for the day.

“Beth is around sixteen, correct?” Leah asked Josiah. No doubt going through her rumspringa, a period when Amish youth enjoyed more freedom to go out into the world and experience what it felt like to not be Plain. Most returned to join the faith. Some did not.

Images of Leah’s own rumspringa came to mind. She and Colette had committed only small acts of defiance. Colette did her best to keep Leah on the right path, but she didn’t know about him. He’d turned Leah’s head away from the path chosen for her and she’d regretted it ever since. Calling himself John, he’d induced her to do things she wouldn’t normally have done, like slipping away in the middle of the night to meet him in her family’s barn . . .

Jah, that is correct.” Josiah’s firm response intruded into Leah’s regrets. He adjusted his glasses on his nose, brows slanted together in a familiar frown. Josiah had always been a solemn man. Leah cleared her throat and posed the question she knew would not be well received. “Is it possible Beth may have gone out after everyone fell asleep? Maybe to a friend’s? Perhaps she spent the night there?”

Miriam’s head shot up. Anger ignited in her eyes. “Nay. It is not possible. Beth is a gut girl. She would not go sneaking out of the house. She is happy with the Plain life and is going to be baptized soon. She and Caleb Wagler will marry one day. Beth would not do such a thing.” Miriam collapsed against her husband, deep sobs racking her body.

Most Amish parents did not question their children about what they did during rumspringa. It stood to reason the Zooks wouldn’t know everything going on in Beth’s life, yet Leah had obviously touched a nerve. She let the matter drop.

“Would you mind if I checked Beth’s room?” She addressed Josiah again as Miriam continued to weep. The man stared at her blankly. Josiah’s simple world had been sent into a tailspin and he was clearly struggling to understand.

Leah focused on the little girl seated beside her mother. “Do you share a room with your sister?”

Katie nodded slightly while keeping her attention on her clasped hands.

“Would you mind showing me around your room?”

Katie twisted her skirt in her hands and snuck a peek at her father. Leah suspected she had information about her sister’s disappearance she might not wish to share in front of her parents.

Josiah gave an approving nod. Katie rose and headed for the stairs without a word. With a glance at the new chief, Leah followed.

The little girl clutched the railing as she slowly climbed the stairs and headed down the hallway to the same room that Colette once shared with Beth.

A wealth of memories waited inside the room. She and Colette had been like sisters back then. Once more, guilt pierced Leah deep. She should have reached out to Colette. Kept in touch. If she were being honest, she’d missed her friend through the years, missed their girlish conversations. Colette had stood at her side, clutching her hand, at the cemetery. And afterward, her friend had reached out to her through visits and letters. Leah had been the one to shut her out. Because remembering the life she’d left behind was just too hard.

She focused on the child. “Do you enjoy sharing a room with your sister?”

Katie’s huge eyes found hers. The little girl’s bottom lip trembled. Was Katie’s reaction due to worry for her sister or guilt over harboring Beth’s secrets?

Jah, she is a gut big sister. She brings me sweets from the store where she works.”

The news surprised Leah. She had had no idea Beth had worked outside of the farm. Leah made a mental note to check with the owners of the store if Beth wasn’t found soon. She glanced around the small, tidy space. “Which is your sister’s bed?”

Katie pointed to the one near where Leah stood while her eyes darted to the open window, where the morning breeze whipped the curtains around.

Leah searched inside the drawer of the nightstand. Nothing but an extra prayer kapp. Where would Beth keep things she didn’t want her parents to see? Leah’s had been under the mattress. A search there produced nothing. Whatever deep, dark secrets Beth might have been keeping, she’d hidden them well. “Was Beth excited to be going through her rumspringa?”

Leah did her best to make Katie feel at ease.

“I guess so.” Katie’s words were vague, offering little, while her gaze kept returning to the window. Leah swung toward it. Did the girls open the window to cool the room against the oppressive heat, or had Beth left it that way when she slipped out the night before?

“Katie, did Beth sneak out to meet someone last night?” Leah’s direct question struck a reaction in the little girl. Tears glistened in her eyes.

Leah moved to Katie’s side. “You’re not in trouble,” she said gently. “I’m just trying to find your sister.”

Katie hiccupped several sobs. “Jah, sh-she snuck out last night. Beth thought I was sleeping, but I wasn’t. I told her Mamm and Daed would be mad when they found out. She begged me not to tell . . . and I didn’t.” Katie scrubbed at the tears that were streaming down her cheeks. “I did not tell anyone but you.”

Leah squeezed her arm. “It’s okay. You’re doing the right thing. Beth needs our help, and this will hopefully let us bring her home safely. Do you have any idea who she was meeting?” Katie vigorously shook her head. “Nay. She did not tell me, but I’m positive it was a boy. An Englischer.” The last word came in a whisper. “I saw her with him once before when she didn’t know. He drove a car and he smiled a lot. Beth did too. She had a funny look on her face when she came back inside.” Beth had let an Englischer into her life. What kind of ideas had he put in her head? Leah thought about her own forbidden romance with John, and her concern for Beth intensified.

“Can you tell me what he looked like, Katie?”

“I did not see him very clearly.” Katie gulped back fresh tears. “They talked over at the Millers’ barn, and I only saw him for a moment before he pulled her into the barn. He was taller than Beth and he had dark hair. That’s all I remember.”

Beth had met the stranger in her old barn. Too much of a coincidence to dismiss.

She grabbed her phone and called Sam. “Where are you?” she asked the second he answered.

“The pasture behind the Zook house. So far, there’s no sign of the girl.”

“Check the barn next door.” Trembles ran through Leah’s frame, and her bad feeling doubled. Was it just the memories of what happened to her family bleeding into this case because of the approaching anniversary? Or something far more deadly? Sam’s silence confirmed he understood the significance. He’d been on the force back when it happened. “We’ll head there now,” he said quietly.

Leah punched End and stuffed the phone into her pocket. The little girl beside her watched her with huge, worried eyes.

More than anything, she wished to reassure Katie everything would be okay, but her gut wouldn’t allow it. The mention of the barn amped up her concerns to a whole new level.

“Katie, do you remember anything about the car the Englischer drove?”

The little girl stared at her for the longest time. “I-I think it may have been black. But it was dark, so I cannot be sure.” “You’re certain it was a car and not a pickup truck?” Leah pressed. They needed answers. Now. Every passing minute reduced Beth’s chances at survival.

Jah, I am positive it was a car.”

“Good, that’s very helpful,” she assured the girl. “Thank you, Katie.”

The room’s window faced Leah’s old homestead. As she peered out at the barn, goose bumps sped up her arms despite the oppressive heat. The rickety door stood wide open. While she tried to process the few details they had so far, Sam and Ethan entered her line of sight. Both men paused in front of the open door, staring at something she couldn’t see before they went inside.

Leah’s pulse ticked off every second they were out of her sight. Twenty beats passed before the men rushed from the building, their stricken faces chilling Leah’s blood.

“Stay here,” Leah told the little girl and crossed the room. Descending the steps as fast as possible, Leah was certain they’d found Beth Zook. And she wasn’t alive.

***

Two of his uniformed officers ran past the Zooks’ front windows. Seeing the terror on their faces catapulted Dalton to his feet.

“Henry, stay with the family,” he said as he hurried to head the men off before they came inside. The small four-officer St. Ignatius police force hadn’t dealt with many serious crimes in the past. He sensed that was about to change.

Before he reached the screen door, Leah Miller pounded down the stairs. Their eyes connected briefly. The same wave of emotion swept over him that had hit him when he’d first introduced himself to her. Fear lived in the depths of those green eyes. A deep red scar on her throat flared despite her attempts to hide it with makeup. No doubt a constant reminder of what she’d been through.

He and Leah were kindred spirits. Though she’d lost so much more than he could ever imagine, they had both been affected by the same crime. Only she had no idea of their connection. Leah broke eye contact, yanked the door open, and headed outside. Dalton caught it before it slammed in his face. She’d seen her fellow officers’ reactions as he had.

“You found her.” Leah addressed the senior officer, Sam Coeburn. It wasn’t a question.

Sam was silent for a moment. “I didn’t think I’d ever see something like that again,” he muttered, his face ashen.

“Let’s take this conversation away from the porch,” Dalton told his officers. He didn’t want the Zooks to hear the fate of their daughter like this. Once the group moved away from the open windows, he asked, “What did you find?”

Sam dragged in several breaths and struggled to get the words out. “The girl, Chief. She’s dead. Her throat’s been cut and there’s blood everywhere . . .”

“Where is she?” The thought foremost in his mind was how devastated the family would be when he had to deliver the news of their daughter’s death.

“In the old Miller barn.” Sam looked anywhere but at Leah. The similarity to what happened all those years ago clearly was not lost on him.

In an instant, Dalton’s worst nightmare materialized before his eyes. When he’d agreed to assist with the missing persons call earlier, not in his wildest dreams did he imagine they’d be facing a homicide with ties to the past. His past.

“We do this by the book,” he told them. The town of St. Ignatius was unique in that it resided on the Flathead Indian Reservation, as did this Amish community. The Flathead police would need to be brought into the investigation along with the sheriff’s office. Since the original call was to the St. Ignatius police, they would take the lead.

Dalton hit the radio on his uniform. “Dispatch, have the coroner come out to the old Miller place right away and contact the tribal police and the sheriff’s department in Polson. Have them send the crime scene investigations unit here as well.”

“Yes, sir.” The tremor in Sugar Wallace’s tone confirmed she understood what had happened.

He’d met Sugar earlier. The fifty-something woman had dyed-red hair piled high on her head. Sugar wore too much makeup and called him “hon,” and he was pretty sure she’d checked him out. But he believed behind that in-your-face abrasive exterior beat a heart of gold. Still, her personality would take some getting used to.

Dalton ended the transmission and faced his waiting officers. “We secure the crime scene right away. Everyone glove up but try not to touch anything unless you have to. When CSI arrives, they can take over and we’ll assist.”

Henry stepped out on the porch, his gaze ping-ponging between the four. “What’s going on?”

Dalton sensed the young officer might still be green. He’d read all his people’s files. Henry had served under Petri’s watch for a short time before the chief had died from a gunshot wound while out on a call. “Close the door,” Dalton told him. Until they had more to go on, he wasn’t ready to break the news to the family.

Henry glanced back inside before he shut the door and came down the steps.

“Sam and Ethan found the girl.” Getting the next part out proved harder. “She’s dead. I need you to stay with the family and keep them inside and away from the windows until we’ve had time to investigate.”

Henry’s mouth flopped open. He repeatedly shook his head. “I can’t. They’ll see the truth on my face.”

“Yes, you can,” Dalton insisted. “Do your job, Officer. This will be hard enough for the family as it is. Be strong.”

Henry’s hesitation confirmed his lack of confidence. He slowly nodded, hitched his thumbs in his belt, and adjusted his pants, then swung toward the door. Dalton watched him disappear inside the home before turning to Leah. “Did you get anything useful from the girl?”

Her attention fixed on him, and Dalton tried not to get sucked into the storm going on inside those tumultuous green eyes. Some of her raven hair had escaped from its restraint, and she tucked it behind her ears. “I did. Katie told me Beth snuck out last night. She said she’d seen her sister with an Englischer over near the barn once before.”

The past slapped him in the face. Had the real killer returned to take up his old games? The time of year was not lost on Dalton. Stuffing down the resentment flowing through his veins proved hard because it was always there whenever he thought about Harrison’s death. Dalton had known Harrison since he was just a child. Knew he wasn’t a killer. “Can she identify this man?”

Leah shook her head. “She thought he had dark hair, and he drove a dark-colored car, but that’s it.” She shrugged. Like him, Leah had to be comparing the details of this murder to the ones that had taken place in that same barn ten years earlier.

A vague description of the perpetrator was all they had to go on. It could fit any of a dozen men around the area. And it fell on his shoulders as the chief of police of little more than a few hours to solve Beth Zook’s murder. His stomach churned. Dalton didn’t believe for a moment the killer would stop with her. He had a bloodlust and he’d just begun his deadly games again. More bodies would follow unless they apprehended him soon.

Dalton stared across the short distance to the barn. Rising heat appeared like a vapor between the two properties. Though it was not even midday, the temperature had already reached the sweltering point. What appeared to be a bloody handprint on the barn door grabbed his attention. He hadn’t noticed it before because the door was open. Now, the crimson blood appeared a stark contrast to the weathered gray exterior of the barn. It served as a warning that the horror of the day had just begun. He remembered reading about a handprint found on the same barn during the Millers’ murder investigation. It was determined to be left by Leah as she fled to the Zooks’ to get help for her family.

When Dalton first heard about Ellis Petri’s murder and the subsequent vacant chief of police position, he’d immediately contacted the hiring committee even though it meant leaving behind a promising detective position in Denver. Not to mention the suggestion from his commander that he was making a mistake by chasing ghosts. When he’d received the call to set up an interview, he tried not to get his hopes up. But Dalton soon learned he was the only outside candidate to apply for the position. The committee had offered him the job the same day. In Dalton’s opinion, the offer came by God’s own hand.

After ten years, he had the chance to find out the truth beyond the story Ellis Petri had given. He would stop at nothing to know what happened to the Miller family . . . and to Harrison. “Let’s take two patrols over and park on the road near the barn. It stands to reason Beth and possibly the killer may have crossed the same path as Sam and Ethan to the barn. There might be evidence left behind we can’t afford to disturb.” Dalton turned to Leah. “You’ll ride with me.” As the only surviving witness to the original murders, she might remember something useful to the case now. And he wanted her close.

Adrenaline shot through his veins. He’d expected it to take months if not years of going over the murder files—chasing down leads missed by Ellis—to have answers. If this was the work of the Miller family’s killer, was the timing an accident or deliberate in anticipation of the tenth anniversary of that crime?

Leah clutched her arms tight around her body. Her troubled eyes seemed to confirm her mind had traveled down the same dark road as Dalton’s.

A tragedy such as hers changed a person. It had certainly changed him. He’d grown up with Harrison. As kids they’d played together. Toward the end of his mother’s life, he spent more time with Harrison’s family than at his own home. Though Dalton was Englisch, neither Harrison nor his family treated him differently.

In the years since Harrison’s death, the mystery of what really happened chased him through his tour of duty in Afghanistan and into his college years as well as his marriage.

“Are you ready?” Leah’s voice intruded into his pain. Dalton’s attention went to her face. She shoved her dark sunglasses in place and climbed into the passenger seat of his SUV without waiting for his answer. Though he’d only met her a short time earlier, he had the feeling she did her best to keep people at a distance. Something they had in common. Since Harrison’s death and the devastation that followed, he’d done the same.

Let it go . . . Give it to me. That small voice whispered in his head.

“Sam, you and Ethan follow me.” Dalton rounded the front of the SUV and climbed behind the wheel. In the passenger seat, Leah stared straight ahead.

Dalton fired the engine, reversed, and then headed down the dusty dirt road. His curiosity about the woman beside him grew. Ellis Petri and his wife had adopted her shortly after the grisly tragedy that had befallen her family. She’d excelled in school and had worked on the force for several years now.

He pulled off the road near the Miller place. He and Leah got out. “Go slow,” he told his people as they headed for the barn. “Keep your eyes open and disturb nothing.”

Leah’s full attention remained on the barn. This investigation would no doubt reopen old wounds. From Sam’s account, Beth Zook’s injuries matched those of Leah and her family. Dalton’s instincts wouldn’t let him accept they had a copycat. Which left one other option. The killer had returned.

He glanced past the structure to the crumbling house while a quick prayer ran through his head. Please be with Beth’s family, Lord. Give them your strength.

After today, the Zooks would never be the same again. The Miller house and barn sat some distance off the road. According to what he could ascertain, the property had remained vacant since the night of the murders. But he was familiar with every inch of it. He’d come here many times after Harrison’s death without anyone knowing. Desperate to understand why Ellis Petri would go after someone as innocent as Harrison for such a heinous act. Especially without iron-clad proof.

“Tire tracks.” Leah stopped and pointed to the dusty earth nearby.

Dalton knelt and studied them. “Sam, get photos of these. We’ll have CSI make molds. Maybe they can match them to a particular make of vehicle.” He rose and glanced at the woman at his side. Her tension was almost palpable.

As they neared the barn, he saw two sets of footprints that came from around the side of the building. One much larger than the other.

“Which way did you and Sam enter the property?” he asked Ethan.

The former marine picked up on what he was asking right away. “Those aren’t ours.”

“The smaller set probably belongs to Beth. It’s possible the second is the killer’s,” Leah said, her voice scratchy.

Without words, they moved to the barn’s entrance, which faced the Zook farm. Up close, the blood-red handprint acted as an omen of what they’d find inside.

Dalton eased open the door and went in first while Leah trailed behind him. Shadows clung to everything despite the time of day. The scent struck him head-on. Metallic and overpowering. Even in the dim light, there was no mistaking the brutality that had taken place within these dilapidated walls.

Beth lay in the middle of the barn on the dirt floor, dressed in a simple white nightgown, blood covering the front of it.

Someone gasped. Dalton’s attention shifted to Leah, her face as pale as the white gown.

“Do you need to step outside?” he asked gently. The reminder of that night long ago had to be crippling. He’d certainly understand if she needed to take a moment.

Leah swallowed repeatedly and visibly collected herself. “No, I’m fine,” she mumbled and moved to the dead girl’s side. Dalton pulled in a ragged breath before joining her.

They faced each other across Beth’s body. Her sightless eyes stared into space. Beth’s throat had been slashed.

Upon taking the police chief position, Dalton had read the report of the Miller murders. He’d seen the crime scene photos. They matched what he witnessed here almost perfectly. However, for reasons only the killer could explain, he hadn’t shown the same vengeance toward Leah as he had the rest of his victims. It appeared the perpetrator had some type of connection to her, whether real or made up in his twisted mind.

A noise broke his concentration. Dalton realized Leah was struggling to keep from being sick.

“Go outside, Officer. That’s an order.” Without answering, she rushed from the barn.

Dalton stared down at the lifeless young woman. Terror and excruciating pain had undoubtedly filled Beth’s final minutes on this earth. “I’m sorry this happened to you,” he whispered. Beth Zook had had her whole life ahead of her. She didn’t deserve this. Blood spatter spread out around the body like a halo. The attack had been a violent one. Most of Beth’s nails were broken.

She’d fought her attacker. It was possible they’d recover some trace DNA from underneath her fingernails.

Someone entered. Dalton turned his head as Ethan came his way.

“This is a terrible thing, Chief. A terrible thing.”

Dalton didn’t respond as he concentrated on Beth’s body. He saw that she clutched an item in her left hand. He freed the paper from the girl’s lifeless hand.

“What is that?” Ethan asked.

Leah had quietly returned to the barn. She and Ethan peered over Dalton’s shoulder at the note.

As carefully as possible, Dalton unfolded the paper. “What’s it say?” Ethan asked.

Dalton glanced at Leah. Her haunted expression solidified his own suspicions. The nightmare that had taken place in this barn ten years earlier had come calling again.

Bright red words jumped out at him from the page. There was no doubt in his mind the killer used Beth’s blood to pen the note. The message written here was intended for one person alone.

“Tell Leah I’m back.”

***

Excerpt from Among the Innocent by Mary Alford. Copyright 2022 by Mary Alford. Reproduced with permission from Revell. All rights reserved.

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Mary AlfordAuthor Bio:

Mary Alford is a USA Today bestselling author who loves giving her readers the unexpected, combining unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots that result in stories the reader can’t put down. Her titles have been finalists for several awards, including the Daphne Du Maurier, the Beverly, the Maggie, and the Selah. She and her husband live in the heart of Texas in the middle of 70 acres with two cats and one dog.  

Catch Up With Mary Alford:

MaryAlford.net

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BookBub – @MaryAlford

Twitter – @maryalford13

Facebook – @MaryAlfordAuthor

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#BookBlitz “Closer to Okay” by Amy Watson

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I’m pleased to share Closer to Okay by Amy Watson with you all today. Look for it this October and be sure to enter the giveaway!

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Closer to Okay

Expected Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Genre: Book Club Fiction/ Modern Contemporary Fiction/ Women’s Fiction

Publisher: Alcove Press

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